They say it's easy to grow a tomato plant but it's challenging to grow it well. And we have to agree. Here are SIX tips to help take your tomato plant starts from green to great!
1. Pick Your Growing Location First - It's great that so many tomatoes have different growing habits to suit your locations so customize! Dwarf tomatoes are great for containers and usually are well supported by a standard tomato cage. If you can set up a trellis then a tomato can really grow tall.
2. Size Matters! - Do you dream of a big beefsteak tomato on that burger this summer or do you crave popping a super sweet cherry tomato on your patio every day or something in between? Buy your tomatoes from a supplier that gives you information about the growing habit and attributes about the tomatoes. Do you like a tomato that is sweet, smokey or complex flavoured? At Sayward Haven Farm we have over 30 varieties of tomato plants at our Annual Plant Sale. They range from Orange Hat Micro Tomato, a 12" tall plant covered in juicy orange cherry tomatoes that can grow on a table out on your patio, to the large beefsteak heirloom Brandywine tomato, and everything in between!
3. Timing Is Everything! Determinate tomatoes grow to a certain size and can be maintained in a small space. Tomato fruit generally comes out over a short period of time. Indeterminate tomato plants keep growing and need to be trellised and pruned regularly. They produce a smaller amount of fruit over a longer period. Do you want a large, one time harvest of paste tomatoes to do a weekend of canning or do you enjoy a steady supply of tomatoes for your salads and sandwiches throughout the summer?
4. Organic Is Better But May Not Look Better - You are much better ahead buying your tomato plants from a farm, nursery or supplier that has grown your plants organicallly. Some stores buy plants that are grown to look great at purchase time using synthetic fertilizers and possibly chemical pesticides. It's like the plants are fed candy. So if you take them home and feed them organically they can go through a "withdrawal". Plants started with organic practices have to toughen up sooner and adapt to their transplant well. Tomatoes thrive when planted in well-drained soil mixed with compost and fed regularly with organic fertilizer. At most local farms including Sayward Haven Farm, we grow ALL our plants using organic practices with no chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Plants started organically don't always look the best being pumped with nitrogen but they are strong and should establish fast and thrive well!
5. Harden Them Off - Find out if your new tomato plants have been hardened off before you plant them. If they haven't you need to slowly introduce them to the sun and other elements. As much as possible, put them outside for one hour the first day (ideally a semi-cloudy day). Increase the time outdoors by and hour each day until you get to 8 hours as best as you can. When not outside make sure they are in a protected area with access to sunlight or grow lights. Putting plants out immediately can cause shock or sunburn.
6. Pot Up Plants If Needed - If you cannot plant out your tomato plants immediately you may need to "pot up" your plants into larger pots. This alleviates the roots from crowding. When potting up you can set the tomato plant deep as new roots will grow out of the stem that is below the soil and help them grow straight and sturdy.
Tomatoes are a rewarding plant to grow in your garden. Shop around your local farms who will have varieties not found in box stores. You'll get different flavours, colours and textures to suit your taste.
With care in selection and investing time upfront, you will be able to experience the wonderful flavour of a just-picked tomato this summer. And if you don't want to be bothered, we'll have many amazing tomatoes the Farm Stand at Sayward Haven Farm.